Perhaps an avenue where Pascalians might better apply their resources is in preventing human-type punishers of a more bland variety from gaining access to simulation capabilities. For instance, Pascalians might form an organization with the mission of identifying and defusing attempts by sadists to acquire power and computational resources with which they could create hell simulations. A friend of mine put it this way:
if somebody says "i'm gonna make me an AI that'll turn turn the earth into hell, with fires everywhere and demons with little pitchforks", you could say to them "no, don't do that" or maybe pay somebody else to build a good AI instead, that sort of thing. Become a vigilante and hunt down evil techno-prophets with a sawed-off shotgun, not that there are any evil techno-prophets. But I suppose you could keep an eye out.Since Christian and Islamic fundamentalists are in fact some of the people most likely to support turning the earth into hell with fires and demons, there might be value in aiming to take away power from such organizations. This could include simply trying to reduce the number of people who ideologically support the notion of eternal punishment.
This last point almost turns Pascal's wager on its head. Obeying a punishing god -- or a malevolent ruler of any type -- is basically adopting the stance, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." But if those malevolent powers may themselves originate from groups of humans who can be stopped, maybe you can "beat 'em" after all. (Of course, I don't think it's necessarily impossible to take action against the ideology of eternal torture while simultaneously trying to submit to some sort of deity who imposes it, even if the situation is a bit awkward.)
I write all of this partly as an update to my thinking and partly in response to the following email that I received. The author has given me permission to reproduce his/her text anonymously; it comprises the quoted sections below. I've interspersed my own replies.
Since I have read your essays about hell, my worldview has changed dramatically. I think it is important to find out much about possible hell-punishers even if we risk finitive losses. But I have one problem with Pascalian reasoning: Ignoring all evidence of agnosticism and always assuming the worst.Thanks for the interesting point.
Just suppose we have immortal souls. To experience a totally god or bad version of the hereafter say heaven and hell is only one (or a few) possibilities among ambivalent or less extreme forms of the afterlife (LEFA).
What if we make ourselves unhappy for a lifetime by thinking about hell and beeing afraid of, then die and with high probability not going to hell but to heaven or most likely to the LEFA where there is nothing to despair but also not to rejoice. If we continue to despair ourselves by pascalian reasoning and we live forever in the LEFA (of course we could still go to hell but the probability that we would exactly do what makes us avoid hell (and not the opposite!) is quite low) we would make ourselves suffer infinitively and create our own "hell in heaven". Of course you can't say that heaven or LESA with the fear of hell is as bad as the worst forms of hell themselves but the second thing is far more likely. So perhaps pascalian reasoning is in the utilitarian view the worst thing you can do to yourself.
This argument would be invalid if in heaven or in the LESA we had no influence on our own feelings but this may even be so on earth.
Surely it would be much worse to be in hell than living my egoistic pascalian life on earth or in the LESA but it is already bad enough that I want to die, what I am not trying to do because of the fear of hell.I'm very sorry to hear that! However, I can't say the feeling is unfamiliar: Life under religious fundamentalism is very often not worth living.
Maybe I should rather care about the earthly problems than making my mind up about hell. Certainly, I would become less selfish if I wouldn't always fear to loose time, energy that could be used to calm the hell-punisher.You're right to point out that Pascalian obedience is fundamentally selfish. For instance, if fundamentalist Catholicism were true, the most altruistic response might be to disobey god in an attempt to reduce the number of births as much as possible -- perhaps by promoting contraception in non-Catholic countries.
Always when I think I should do something because I could go to hell if I failed to do it, I revolt against the order of my rationality by doing nothing and excuse myself by suddenly believing in fate. If I didn't fear hell I had also some positive motives as self-confidence and enjoyment to develop my talents and my willpower. If I wouldn't always ignore every worldview without an avoidable hell I could more likely find out what God is like (what does not mean you can't be punished eternally for not doing so) or I could maybe even adhere to a religion (I was a Christian until I considered if Islam was more likely) or something like that (I pray to a religionless deity every day for universal salvation but actually I DON'T HAVE FATITH).Wow, I can sympathize completely -- fear of religion is indeed painful. And I completely know what you mean about praying to a religionless diety for universal salvation. :)
I hope things get better for you. Take care!